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Oklahoma Bombing Revives Waco Memory

The curious, devout, and angry beat a path in the foot-high grass of Koresh's abandoned compound

EVEN as 4,800 pounds of explosives were detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, Branch Davidians were planting a grove of crape myrtle trees at Mount Carmel, their former compound outside Waco.

The Branch Davidians wished to honor 80 of their brethren whose standoff there with federal agents had ended in a conflagration exactly two years earlier. But they felt somewhat upstaged as dozens of members of two Texas-based paramilitary groups attended the memorial service uninvited and fired a 21-gun salute.

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No direct link between the Branch Davidians and the Oklahoma City attack has been established. But since the bombing, politicians and the public have become aware of how ''Waco'' has been used as a rallying point for right-wing groups who see the government as encroaching on their personal rights.

Many come to see what is left of the home, church, and shooting range of apocalyptic preacher David Koresh and his adherents. Beyond a smashed trailer home and a gutted bus, a toolshed still stands. The disarray inside includes distributor caps, rusty bed frames, and numerous items of correspondence strewn over the damp floor, uncollected by the FBI.

There is a 1988 issue of the Wall Street Journal, information on buying Treasury bills, and pages from tax-accounting manuals. One document is a blank purchase order from the Despositary Trust Company, a New York entity that stores $7 trillion in securities for banks.

All that remains of the main building are concrete basement walls half-filled with water, surrounded by heaps of charred wood, twisted pipes, and children's bicycles. Foot-high grass and wildflowers grow over the ruins, except where the steps of visitors have beaten a path.

It's a tour for the curious, the devout, or the angry. One who walked it is Timothy McVeigh, the sole suspect in custody for the Oklahoma City bombing.

Another visitor, sightseeing after the bombing, is Ruth Fariss of North Hollywood, Calif. She calls the government's raid on Mount Carmel a ''fiasco.''

But she adds, ''There's no justification that I can see'' for what happened in Oklahoma City. More than 130 bodies have been recovered since the nine-story building was jolted into rubble two weeks ago.

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The handful of remaining Branch Davidians are divided in loyalty and scattered across the continent. But the federal raid is by no means a closed chapter of their history. Branch Davidians and surviving family members -- and reporters and lawmen, too -- have filed lawsuits seeking a combined $2 billion in connection with the raid on Mount Carmel.

A scrappy woman living in a one-room shack is the only resident of the 77-acre Mount Carmel site today. Amo Roden stays to stake her claim on the property in the name of her husband, George Roden.

Mr. Roden is the only living director of the trust, the General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists, that owns Mount Carmel. But he lost control of the sect to David Koresh years before the federal raid and was confined to a hospital for the insane.

''The government contends that he's crazy. I feel he's a political prisoner,'' Mrs. Roden says, relaxing on a car seat leaned against a shade tree. Piles of fence posts, buckets, and air-conditioning equipment rise above the weeds. Laundry waves on a clothesline.

A handful of Koresh followers live elsewhere in Waco, awaiting their former leader's resurrection. Mrs. Roden insists that Koresh is alive, and that the government, embarrassed, is covering up the fact.

So where is Koresh? ''Give me a break,'' she says. ''I was never one of his buddies when he was alive.''

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